If the first stage of love conjures images of infatuation and new beginnings, then its subsequent stage must be a progression from it — something much more nuanced and developed. This is certainly the case with Air’s latest album, Love 2.

Air

Love 2
Virgin

Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, the French duo known as Air, have opted for a bolder, more direct sound with their latest album.

Love 2 opens aggressively with “Do the Joy,” featuring heavy synth, prog guitar and a robotic voice intoning phrases in very harshly accented French. The song sets the auditory precedent for the album, which takes an unexpected turn for a band known mostly for its dreamy, “light as air” harmonies.

Lead single and album standout “Sing Sang Sung” is one of the record’s frothier offerings. At times, the timbre of the vocals is strangely reminiscent of of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes. It’s not surprising, given that both groups are influenced by the same ’70s synthesizer sounds. The song is deliciously coy and unhurried, with jaunty tambourines accompanying breathy vocals, skillfully offsetting the album’s largely assertive feel.

In contrast, “Missing the Light of Day,” another standout, follows the aggressive mien of the opening track with a pounding, insistent rhythm and fluid harp melodies, which add a layer of atmospheric complexity to the song. The song has an understated, yet energetic and danceable beat.

“Tropical Disease,” also employing this more forceful sound to positive effect, is perfect for lounging around in a velvet dressing gown while languidly smoking a pipe. Sultry saxophone quickly segues into a James Bond-like theme rife with fervent violins, bringing to mind visions of film noir, smoky jazz clubs and silent-screen sirens.

Sometimes, however, the purposeful aggression of Love 2 has a jarring, wince-inducing effect. “Night Hunter” disconcertingly juxtaposes mellow instruments like clarinets and vaguely oriental piano against extremely discordant synth and antagonistic guitars stretched and bent far out of tune.

The unimpressive closer “African Velvet” may leave listeners wondering if there is a Love 3 in the works. The song trails off to an unimpressive ending making it feel like an unfinished thought. As a result, the album feels incomplete.

Holistically, vocals play a secondary role to the supple and richly layered ambient instrumentation, which comprises much of the album’s overall appeal. Air is renowned for its moody tone, but the bold aggression of atmospheric sounds is used to mixed results on its latest album. At times, the aggressive tone is too deliberate and overworked, clashing against Air’s traditionally more delicate sound. It’s unfortunate none of the songs on the album quite live up to the new direction offered by the promising opening track.

Love 2 is an enjoyable, listenable album, but it certainly doesn’t compare with Air’s best works (Talkie Walkie, Moon Safari). Despite all this newly inserted aggression, Love 2 remains a relatively innocuous album, lacking Air’s signature cheekiness and poignancy. As in real life, love isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

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